July 25, 2021
Timeless appeal of ‘Joseph’ resonates
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a great choice for Urbandale Community Theatre to resume its relationship with our community. Chalk up another established stage producer getting back in the game, as the pandemic squashed UCT’s 2020 plans, like it did with so many other planned productions. To say that fans and participants of this annual theatrical tradition are excited to again share their efforts is an understatement of biblical proportions.
Joseph and its creators, Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), are both anchored in their own genesis. Joseph pulls the story of the title character’s coat of many colors from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. This was Webber and Rice’s career genesis, their first musical to be performed publicly, in 1970. Filled with an eclectic range of musical styles, with undeniable toe-tapping family appeal, this show quickly became a staple for community, school, and professional theaters around the world.
UCT pulls out all the stops, even continuing their tradition of a large community orchestra to accompany Joseph. This is community theatre in its purest form – totally volunteer, from production team to orchestra to cast, united with a shared love of performing arts. The enthusiasm this production poured into their Joseph is infectious, and the audience responded in kind. The Franklin Avenue school auditorium is a marvelous venue for Joseph. Plenty of air-conditioned space, plenty of room for the 16-piece orchestra (yes, SIXTEEN), a visually impressive use of upstage screens for scenic projections. All added to this rousing musical.
UCT’s team reflects the inclusive nature of community theatre: a mix of fresh and seasoned, skilled and enthusiastic talent. One strength is this cast’s vocal power. From the rich strength of the male chorus in the sons’ numbers, to the choral expansiveness of the full production numbers, when these singers come together en masse, they impress. This cast also boasts several members from the same families – a truly joyful experience for those performers.
Director Cecelia Allemagne made a bold choice that pays dividends by casting a duo to share the Narrator role. Annika Andrews and Heather Tragesser bring a symbiotic balance to this important story thread. From Annika’s soaring soprano to Heather’s rich contralto, they easily cover the range that often challenges a single performer. Hopefully, the sound operator will better balance the levels between the two when they harmonize, as Tragesser’s miking often overpowered Andrews’. Both presented poised, melodious performances.
UCT newcomer Colby Jones brings a somewhat subdued nuance to his Joseph. His easy-flowing song-styling work well for the variety of his songs and, in his features, he brings an anchored presence.
Joseph reflects its origins, a 15-minute “pop cantata,” with its story connected by a variety show-like series of showcase numbers. This show is filled with crowd-pleasing punch and tunes, and this highly energized ensemble delivers. From the lilting “Any Dream Will Do” at the beginning to its reprise at the end (plus an extended curtain call medley of the show’s songs ala disco in “Joseph Mix”), the ‘tween numbers cover the gamut. “Joseph’s Coat” includes the full cast for this gloriously rousing unfurling of Joseph’s iconic garment. “One More Angel in Heaven” is yeehaw, country twang, led with cowpoke cornpone by Nick Flynn (Reuben). The featured cameo role of Pharoah in “Song of the King” is Christopher Rosenboom (also as Zebulah), the hip-swingin’, growly-voiced Egyptian Elvis, who captured the sound and sashay, but could have used a little more enunciation to get the tricky lyrics conveyed. “Those Canaan Days,” given Franco-soulfulness by talented James Kolnik (who plays Simeon, and whose precision and pop in the choreography are stellar), delights. Give a special nod to the dance interlude featuring Ellie Cole and Mitchell Nieland. The bouncy Caribbean rhythm of “Benjamin Calypso,” under the fluid lead vocals of Nieland (Judah), blends playful harmonies with its apologetic message.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat truly holds something for everyone as a classic Biblical story is creatively expanded and set to a scrumptious smorgasbord of music, movement and merriment. The glitches are easily overlooked – missed microphone cues, some staging areas not in the light, and a few other small gaffes that merely add to the charm of seeing your community members giving their all for their performance. Add the contextual lessons for children seeing this story when told through a musical lens. Join the unabashed enthusiasm with which UCT delivers this favorite show, and savor every song, step and delivery in a marvelous production.
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